Are you interested in adopting solar energy to create a more sustainable and resilient community? The Solar Ready II project, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative Rooftop Solar Challenge, is streamlining and standardizing solar processes across the country to ultimately provide new solar market access to ten million people nationwide. To spur the adoption of solar energy in regions and communities, the National Association of Regional Councils (NARC) created the Solar Ready II website. This website is a great resource for city planners and managers, community developers, utility managers, and other public works officials interested in solar energy. The solar best management practices’ webpage offers over 30 resources ranging from zoning code improvements, solar access ordinances, building code improvements, streamlined and standardized permits and fees, financing, and much more. Each resource links to additional information and in-depth examples.
The resources found on the BMPs’ page are categorized by three main sections: Planning Improvements, Process Improvements, and Financing.
Planning improvements codify and emphasize a jurisdiction’s support of a building owner’s right to use solar. Removing local ordinance barriers, adopting facilitating codes, and enabling solar access in new developments fosters a community that supports individual choice. There are several planning improvement resources that public works officials can use to bolster solar energy adoption, including the American Planning Association’s Integrating Solar Energy in Local Plans. This resource examines different approaches used to integrate solar energy into planning, and breaks down common, comprehensive, subarea, and functional plans to demonstrate how to incorporate solar. It also provides examples of jurisdictions that have successfully met goals, changed policies, and taken action to support simple or complex solar initiatives within a community.
Process improvements are one of the fastest and most effective means to facilitating solar installation. Streamlining the permitting process, offering a centralized location for information that clearly explains the process, standardizing permit fees, and pre-qualifying plans and installers will make the process clear and seamless. Implementing solar energy can be an overwhelming task for a community that is not familiar with the process. The Mid-America Regional Council’s Solar Permit Checklist can assist installers, construction officials, planners, and others involved in the installation process. This resource explains the purpose and benefits of having a solar permit checklist, kinds of questions city officials should include, and examples of checklists cities currently have in place.
Financing options are key to increasing solar capacity since many communities still face high up-front costs for solar development. Evaluating local soft costs, engaging lenders, and launching Solarize campaigns are just a few of the numerous mechanisms communities can use to help make solar energy more affordable and accessible. In particular, Solarize campaigns have become an increasingly popular financing strategy. The Solarize strategy allows groups of homeowners and businesses to work together to collectively negotiate lower rates, and overcome the financial and logistical barriers to solar installation. The NREL Solarize Guidebook provides information on how to create a Solarize campaign in your community, including planning templates to initiate the campaign.
There has never been a better time to start investing in solar energy. New approaches, resources, falling prices, and improved technologies are making solar the most affordable it has been in history. In 2013, the U.S. installed over 10 GW of solar, which is enough to power nearly 7.5 million homes. The resources found on the Solar Ready II website strive to simplify the process for cities, so that they can capitalize on this growing industry. By implementing solar best management practices in their communities, cities will be able to take action on solar in a more cost and time efficient manner.
To learn more about available resources and Solar Ready II, please visit www.narc.org/solarready/ .
Guest Blogger: Mia Colson, MPA, Program Analyst , National Association of Regional Councils.